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Blackhawks Tue Dec 14 2010

Blackhawks' Defense Remains a Disaster

Thumbnail image for blackhawks.gifIf you wanted to see the reason the Blackhawks have been struggling so far this season, it was in fine display last night in Colorado, where despite netting five goals and taking a third-period lead, the Hawks lost 7-5 to the Avalanche, giving up two goals and an empty-netter in the final 2 1/2 minutes. (Lowlights available here)

As was the case throughout the game, horrific turnovers and defensemen out of position led to the tying and winning goals, with Brent Seabrook getting caught in no-man's land on both tallies. Seabrook was abysmal, going -4 and causing an unfortunate turnover that led to an earlier Avs goal as well as the game clinchers.

Unfortunately, Duncan Keith wasn't much better, matching Seabrook's plus-minus and also contributing some ugly turnovers and getting caught up in the play. Throughout the game, the Blackhawks showed some major mental lapses, giving up goals at the start of the first and second periods, and the first period saw tying goals by Chicago followed immediately by the Avalanche reclaiming the lead on the next shift.

And really, that's been the story of the Blackhawks season. The offense has had its hot and cold streaks, but Chicago is still averaging 3.09 goals a game, just a tick off of last season's 3.20. Despite all the player turnover upfront, the new forwards have for the most part contributed their share. The goaltending situation is easy to focus on, but despite the story painted by Marty Turco's numbers (3.06 goals against and a .900 save percentage), he hasn't been the albatross that Cristobal Huet turned into last season as his edge and confidence melted away. While Corey Crawford's performed markedly better in the win column, the main difference is Crawford's had more big saves from defensive breakdowns/turnovers than Turco's been able to muster.

Looking at last night as an example, Turco's 4 goals on 10 shots looks horrid, but two of the 4 were point blank one-timers he had no chance at. The second Colorado goal by Paul Statsny Turco got a piece of, but a Blackhawks turnover left Statsny wide open in front of the net, hardly a recipe for success. Only the 4th and final was something Turco needed to find a way to cover, but even that was a result of a turnover and an odd-man rush. Crawford played well in relief, but was again left out to dry in the final minutes.

Despite missing Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Dave Bolland and Fernando Pisani up front, the Hawks put up a fight and had the late lead, but the defense once again let the team down, as has been the case all season. The Hawks struggled in the first month with Brian Campbell out with an injury, leaving the 2nd pairing a mess as usual partner Niklas Hjalmarsson had a difficult time adjusting to his mix-and-match pairings. Meanwhile, both Seabrook and especially Keith had their off games while logging heavy minutes, but last night is a prime example of how important their play is to the Hawks. And the less said about the third pairing of Jassen Cullimore and Nick Boynton, the better (though they've probably exceeded modest expectations, neither can really be relied on long-term). Last season's biggest strength returned almost all of its players, but has been more of a liability so far this year, as the Blackhawks goals against has plummeted from 6th best in the league to 24th, and the penalty kill from 4th to 24th.

Make enough mistakes, and opponents will capitalize. Make those mistakes a reoccuring nightmare, and you have your Chicago Blackhawks of 2010-11. Hopefully these Hawks also have resiliency and a short memory like last year's squad, as they'll get another shot at Colorado on home ice tomorrow night.

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